And the consequences of a warmer world for Australia look set to be dire: more heatwaves, coral bleaching, bushfires, droughts, the list goes on. Elsewhere internationally, particularly for our Pacific neighbours, the consequences look set to be even more devastating and deadly.
But many of our politicians refuse to either accept it, or risk their political ambitions to do anything about it.
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) authored by 90 scientists shares the key differences between two goals that are just 0.5 degrees apart – limiting the increase of human-induced global warming to below 2 degrees, and the more ambitious goal that came out of the Paris Agreement of limiting it to 1.5 degrees.
The world looks set to breach the 1.5 degree mark as early as 2040 and then the two degree mark in the 2060s.
Meanwhile, that 1.5 degrees of warming still isn’t anything close to a “safe” level, given the impacts we’ve seen from one degree of warming have already been severe. For example at 1.5 degrees, 70 to 90 per cent of the world’s coral reefs are expected to be damaged.
A reminder here, the United States has already pulled out of the Paris Agreement, while Australia’s support has looked precarious. The former PM who signed Australia up to it, Tony Abbott, recently said Australia needs to get out of the agreement in order to end the “omissions obsession”.
And Australia currently has no real plan for reducing emissions.
The report finds that it’s not impossible for the world to reduce global warming to 1.5 degrees, but it would be challenging. By 2050, the world would need to reach near-zero on carbon dioxide emissions, and reduce it by 45% by 2030. It’s possible, but governments would need to take bold actions. We need “transformational” change that will be difficult to advance in a world that’s still not necessarily convinced of the science. And in a world that’s still hooked on coal.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison continues to say Australia is on target to hit our current 26% emissions reduction target, despite the lack of any real, credible energy policy – and despite the Government’s own data showing it’s unlikely given that emissions increased 1.3% in the year to March 2018.
Energy Minister Angus Taylor is also in denial, saying Australia is “well on target” to achieve the 26% reduction, although he was unable to share a single policy that will get us there, when asked by Sky News on Monday.
Don’t expect a change of government to have a hugely dramatic impact on Australia’s contribution to reductions, although it could certainly shift the rhetoric. While Labor’s policy is for 50% renewable energy by 2030, that’s unlikely to be enough. And yesterday Opposition leader Bill Shorten indicated he’s not going to go too far: “We are not saying there wont be fossil fuel as part of our energy mix going forward.”
The difference between warming of 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees? According to the ICPP report, that additional 0.5 degrees looks like this:
- A dramatic increase in financial costs: from $US54 trillion to $US69 trillion in today’s dollars, over the years to 2100.
- Transformation to three times as much of the planet’s terrestrial ecosystems, which would result in significantly more species extinctions.
- An ice-free Arctic at a pace of once a decade, something that’s never actually occurred and would result in significant rising waters
- A doubling in the number of people internationally experiencing water scarcity
- An increase in the number of floods, droughts and other extreme weather events.
- The loss of “virtually all” coral reefs
- 420 million more people frequently exposed to extreme heatwaves
What can we do? With households responsible for around 20 per cent of Australia’s emissions, there are things we can do at home to dramatically reduce our impact, and save money on our energy bills, many of them outlined in Natalie Isaacs excellent new book, Every Woman’s Guide to Saving the Planet.
And there’s an argument for the role women can play in pushing to secure more board and management positions (easier said than done, of course). As recent research found, those boards that have more women on them are actually ‘greener’ when it comes to taking on environmental risk.
While you can’t always control what’s happening in Canberra, we can make an impact at home and potentially in the companies we work in and choose to support as consumers. At least then we can tell our kids we did something.